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Wrexham Churches Survey

Church of St Mary , Chirk

Chirk Church is in the Diocese of St Asaph, in the community of Chirk in the county of Wrexham. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SJ2914137633. At one time it may have been dedicated to St Tysilio.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16745 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Chirk Church, CPAT copyright photo CS975227.JPG

Summary

The church of St Mary at Chirk above the Dee Valley is believed to have been first built in the late 12thC, though an earlier foundaion date is not impossible. In the 16thC the north aisle was added to form a double-naved structure, and a west tower was also built. The present building contains little of medieval date other than the north nave roof and a stone from a heart shrine, but does have a range of post-medieval wooden fittings and some elaborate memorials to the Myddleton family. The churchyard is rectangular and has seen substantial clearance.

The nave and chancel on south side are the earliest portion of the church. The date cannot be ascertained for the fenestration is Perpendicular, yet a small round-headed window should indicate a 12thC date. The original south wall was perhaps taken down and rebuilt slightly further to the south with recesses holding the Perpendicular windows; built into this wall are the remnants of a round-headed door which could be 17thC, though its purpose is unclear.

The northern nave (north aisle) and the west tower date from a Late Perpendicular (16thC) remodelling.

Parts of the following description are quoted from the 1986 publication The Buildings of Wales: Clwyd by Edward Hubbard

History

Little is known of the early history of Chirk church, though it has been argued that it may have been as least as early as the 12thC when a maerdref was in existence here. Indeed, there is some evidence of a link with St Tysilio and the possibility of an early medieval church though whether it was on this particular site is unknown.

It is claimed that at some point in the earlier part of the 13thC Chirk was a chapelry appropriated by Valle Crucis Abbey, and that the dedication was changed to St Mary at that time. However, in the 1291 Taxatio it appears as 'Ecclia de Eweun' with a value of 8, by which time the Cistercian link may have been limited.

In 1804 the chancel was repaired, in 1811 the building was whitewashed, and in 1829 new pews were introduced, the galleries were added and the south nave roof was replaced, all at a cost of 2064.

The galleries were altered 1849, and the roof at the east end was renewed after a fire in 1853 which also destroyed the fittings in the south chancel.

Glynne's visit is not dated. He remarked that the whole was Perpendicular, and described the windows. A sculptured cross, probably a consecration cross, was noted in the south wall.

Some re-seating occurred in 1877, together with the removal of a staircase to the west gallery, allowing the introduction of swing doors at the entrance to the nave.

The vestry was enlarged around 1927, a faculty of 1950 reveals the renewal of tracery in the westernmost window of the north wall, and the church hall was added in 1981.

Architecture

Chirk church is a double-naved building, the nave and chancel on the south and a north aisle to which a tower is attached at the west end. There is no separate porch, but a vestry on the north side of the tower has been added to in recent years to form a church hall. The church is oriented fractionally south of west. For descriptive purposes 'ecclesiastical east' is adopted for the church, though not for the churchyard.

Fabrics:- 'A' consists of large squared blocks of grey stone, perhaps a coarse sandstone with some smaller blocks, coursed; occasional 'foreign' inclusions. 'B' is of small, irregularly shaped blocks of red and grey ?shale, with well-dressed regular quoin stones. 'C' is as 'A', except that in places there are considerable patches of buff and orange sandstone, and the masonry appears cleaner. 'D' is of irregularly shaped blocks of grey and brown shale, randomly coursed. 'E' consists of blocks of grey shale, frequently roughly squared off, and mixed with blocks of buff-coloured sandstone. 'F' is of richly iron-stained shale, but with some sandstone which is probably re-used fragments; some of the associated quoins are of well-dressed stone.

'D' is medieval, 'A' of the 16thC, 'C' could be re-used pre-16thC masonry, or of later date, 'F' is post-medieval, and 'E' is 19thC. The date of 'B' is uncertain.

Roof:- slated roofs; cross finials to the east ends of north aisle and chancel, and west end of nave.

Drainage:- drains on north and south sides, less certainly on east, and tarmac on west.

Exterior

Tower - General. In 'A'. String courses at tops of first, second and third stages of tower; the third stage is inset and constructed in 'C', though the upper part of this stage appears to be in 'A', perhaps indicating re-use of masonry. The third stage also has an intermediate string course which runs over the top of the belfry windows as a hoodmould. Both string courses on the third stage have cavetto underfaces. Waterspouts on top string course on north and west sides. Above is a battlemented parapet. Tower turret is topped by a conical cap and a weathercock. Diagonal buttresses, but 'B'-type stone used for facing in places, and the parapet, too, is in 'B'.

North wall:- vestry blocks lower part of wall face. Second stage has a small centrally placed two-centred window, its eroded, chamfered jambs original. At the same level but to the west is a smaller window, again with weathered jambs but of different colours, and the jamb on the west is cusped; this might be due to differential weathering but it is perhaps re-used window tracery. Belfry window in the third stage has two louvred lights with broad ogee heads and Y-tracery, under a two-centred arch. Possibly all but one of the archstones has been renewed.

East wall:- north aisle roof rises to just below first string course. Above this in the second stage is a broad lancet with renewed dressings. The belfry window is as on the north side; perhaps not all the dressings have been replaced though it is impossible to decide on the jambs from ground level.

South wall:- the first stage string course runs only for about one-third of the side. No window in second stage. Standard belfry window with some of the tracery perhaps original; hoodmould renewed.

West wall:- founded on a high basal plinth with a chamfered overhang. First stage has more 'C' than 'A'. Tudor doorway with label over; sharp arrises look very fresh. Immediately above is a four-centred window of four lights with septifoil heads and Y-tracery rising above the central lights. Deeply hollowed jambs are original, but mullions and tracery renewed. Second stage in 'A' has clock face. Standard belfry window with some of tracery perhaps original. Both the first and second stages have two slit windows with chamfered dressings to light the tower stair, the upper one in the first stage with a bulbous enlargement at its top. Dressings are all original.

North Aisle - General. Lower parts of walls to height of around 3m in well laid and coursed 'A'-type masonry. Less well coursed 'C'-type masonry for upper levels; occasional flecks of limewash adhere to stones. Basal chamfered plinth (rising to only 0.3m on east side); diagonal buttress at north-east corner.

North wall:- two four-centred windows both with three lights that have ogee heads with cinquefoil tracery, and panels above. Jambs and sill of more easterly window look to be original but the rest of the dressings are renewed though at different times on the evidence of the differently coloured freestone.

East wall:- 'C'-type masonry from window springer level. The east window has a four-centred arch, five lights, three with cusped ogee heads, the others with round heads; sub arches above, together with cusped panels. The tracery and mullions replaced but the hollow-moulded jambs are original.

Nave and Chancel - General. This cell of the church rises about 1m higher than the north aisle.

East wall:- in 'D' fabric, but in 'E' from window springer level. Close to the southern angle is a vertical butt joint running up from ground level to the point where 'D' gives way to 'E', indicating a widening of the wall. On the north the join with the north aisle is hidden behind an angle buttress. The window has a two-centred arch, four trefoiled lights with round heads, sub arches and cusped panels; most if not all of the dressings have been renewed. Below the window is a broad pilaster buttress.

South wall:- the wall is supported by four buttresses, two diagonal and two angle but all are of well-dressed freestone and appear Victorian or later. These break the south wall into three bays, the central part of each being recessed and containing a window, except the bay at the extreme west which is narrower and has no window. From east: i) the first bay is in 'D' and has a flattish four-centred window of three lights with two-centred heads and cinquefoil tracery, mainly original. The hoodmould too is original and has much weathered ?animal-head stops, unless these are the heads of a monk and nun (signalling the Valle Crucis connection) which are mentioned by Thomas. The outset wall beyond the bay and behind the main buttress is in 'F'. ii) the second bay contains a square-headed window of three lights with trefoiled two-centred heads, the dressings in the main original; no hoodmould. Above it is a worn consecration cross, reputedly 12thC, below it a pilaster buttress. Next to it are the western jambs and the arch stone of a small, round-headed window; it is low in the wall and appears not to be in its original position, yet is presumably the remnant of a 12thC opening. iii) the next section of wall, in a mix of fabrics 'D' and 'F' together with one quartz lump, is outset with a buttress set against it. Immured in this section is a round-headed doorway, the arch complete with a moulded capital still in place, but without any of the jambs. Hubbard considers this to be as late as the 17thC, though it has also been remarked as a Norman survival - either way it must be re-set. iv) the next, narrower, bay is devoid of features, its fabric heavily pointed and showing much limewash residue. It appears to be a mixture of 'D' with a little 'F'. v) the last projection, at the south-west angle incorporates sandstone slabs.

West wall:- mainly in 'D' though heavy pointing. Sandstone quoins indicate that the original south-west corner was a little further north than present corner (cf east wall). Assuming they existed, the quoins at the former north-west corner are hidden by the diagonal buttress of the tower. Four-centred Tudor doorway with label, and above it a four-light window under a two-centred arch, with panels above the lights. Both door and window are in relatively modern, pale buff sandstone, and there are signs of insertion.

Interior

Tower - General. Carpetted floor, painted and plastered walls but with some panelling from old pews. Ceiled by sloping base of gallery.

North wall:- passage to vestry cut through the wall thickness, its doorway four-centred and with chamfered sides.

East wall:- chamfered responds of tower arch; low gallery front.

South wall:- passage with a four-centred entrance giving access to nave.

West wall:- on the west, part of the ground floor is partitioned off to create a porch with a marble floor, a low flat ceiling and plastered walls; rectangular doorways give access to the gallery (currently unsafe) and the bellchamber.

North aisle - General. Carpetted floor, wooden benches raised on wooden boarding platforms; at the east end a row of benches at right-angles, facing altar. Walls plastered and painted, including the arches of the arcade; ornamental wooden panelling on north and east walls behind and beside the benches at the east end facing the altar. Roof of four bays with pseudo-hammerbeams and, between these, arch-braced collar trusses which spring from the wall top in front of the ribbed wall beam; in every truss the spandrel above the collar/hammerbeam is filled with intricate carving; the side panels of the hammerbeams are painted with flower heads and foliage; painted animals and other carvings affixed to the terminals of the arch braces on both sides. The roof 15thC or 16thC but the carvings repainted in 1953. The rest of the roof painted brown.

North wall:- two windows with splayed embrasures, only the window dressings unpainted; stained glass of 19thC and 20thC date. Ten memorials, the majority 19thC.

East wall:- splayed window embrasure. Three brass or stone memorials, including one a commemorative plaque relating to the erection of east window; all 19thC.

South wall:- three-bay arcade set on octagonal columns of bare stone with ribbed and hollow-moulded capitals and four-centred arches; arches spring from plain wall responds at both east and west ends. Mural tablet set on east face of more easterly column.

West wall:- dominated by tower arch, also four-centred and of two orders, with capitals of the same design as the arcade. Inserted above this is a gallery of 1829 with decorated front panelling; the space above this is now panelled off and painted, acting as a back drop for a modern Myddleton hatchment of 1988. Standing out from the wall to the south of the tower arch and running for equivalent distance into the nave is a masonry 'buttress'; this now effectively acts as the west respond for the arcade and acts as a support for the gallery, but may have been constructed for some other purpose. It also supports a wooden Commandment board and the painted Coat-of-Arms above it. Behind it is a passage way and the heart shrine stone is housed there.

Nave - General. Floor carpetted and raised benches as north aisle. Walls also as north aisle. Roof of six bays with pseudo-hammerbeams modelled on those in north aisle, and raking struts, heavily decorated. Moulded wall plates project from walls but rest of roof plastered over. This roof and the west gallery are of 1829, the latter projecting further forward than its counterpart in the north aisle and holding the organ; not currently accessible.

North wall:- arcade (shared with chancel) as north aisle. Four-centred arch at west end leads back to tower.

East wall:- a change in the roof alone.

South wall:- one splayed window embrasure, the window without stained glass; one 19thC brass, and the dominant Myddleton monument of 1718-22, adjacent to which are shorter benches because of its size.

West wall:- an internal wooden porch, and in the south-west corner a curtained area for storage; above the porch a splayed window, without stained glass, mostly hidden behind gallery; two 19thC mural tablets.

Chancel - General. Demarcated only by change in roof style, though further to the east are two steps to the sanctuary and one to the altar. Floor carpetted apart from wooden block flooring around altar. Myddleton family vault beneath the floor. Walls as elsewhere in church. Roof of three narrow bays, the main moulded ribs and the intermediate ribs meeting a central ridge purlin, and the four main intersections having decorated roundels with a winged putto above the east window. All heavily painted.

North wall:- as north aisle.

East wall:- shallowly splayed window embrasure. 18thC Myddleton monuments on either side of window. 19thC reredos.

South wall:- one splayed window with stained glass and a number of 19thC and 20thC memorials in stone and marble; one brass.

Vestry - General. Tiled floor, standard wall finish with two 19thC windows on west and east; simple purlin and rafter roof. North wall cut through for access to 20thC hall.

Churchyard

The earliest churchyard at Chirk was strictly rectangular, but it has been extended eastwards at least twice in 1882 and 1905, and again in 1939. It occupies level ground, but the edge of the Dee valley is less than 100m to the south. It is well-maintained and the eastern extension is used for burial.

Boundary:- a well-mortared stone wall with coping stones on the south and west. The wall is less uniform on the north.

Monuments:- few are left in place around the church for there has been drastic clearance; there is nothing of pre-19thC date and some of the visible burials are modern. The paths leading past the church are paved with grave slabs. Some are certainly 18thC, the earliest seen being of 1737 but much worn. East of the church the gravemarkers remain in situ.

Furniture:- a sundial inscribed 'W Potter, R. Edwards, Churchwardens. W & S Jones, 30 Holborn, London'. No obvious date. Gnomon in place and the dial raised on an octagonal, niched pillar. Also a cross on a four-step plinth, erected in memory of J. Darlington (1933).

Earthworks:- churchyard is raised by up to 1m on the south, and 0.5m or so on the west and north. On the east is a slight drop down into the churchyard extension. Spoil mounded up on the north side of the church is presumably a result of the construction of the new hall (see below).

Ancillary features:- new hall added to the north side of the church in recent years. Half-timbered lychgate with stone-slabbed roof, of 1923, on west; tarmac paths on west, slab paths to east.

Vegetation:- yews on south and east, mature but of no great age. Original eastern boundary is marked by several of them. Conifers on the north and west sides.

Sources consulted

CPAT Field Visit: 19 June 1997
Faculty: St Asaph 1882 (NLW): addition to the churchyard
Faculty: St Asaph 1939 (NLW): addition to the churchyard
Faculty: St Asaph 1950 (NLW): removal of tracery
Glynne 1884, 187
Hubbard 1986, 128
Hurdsman 1996
Lloyd Williams and Underwood 1872 pl 45
Pratt in Clwyd Historian 13 (1982), 30
Pritchard 1973
Quinquennnial Report 1986
Quinquennnial Report 1994
Ridgeway 1997, 56
Thomas 1911, 270
Click here to view full project bibliography

Please note that many rural churches are closed to the public at certain times. It is advisable to check when the church will be open before visiting. Information about access, or how to contact parish clergy, can often be obtained from the relevant Diocesan Office which can be found through the Church in Wales website. Further information about Chirk Church may also be found on the St Asaph Diocese website.


The CPAT Wrexham Churches Survey Project was funded by Cadw as part of an all Wales survey of medieval parish churches.

This HTML page has been generated from the Cadw Churches Survey database & CPAT's Regional Historic Environment Record - 17/07/2007 ( 22:03:19 ).
Further information about this and other churches surveyed is available from the Regional Historic Environment Record, Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust, Curatorial Section, 41 Broad Street, Welshpool, Powys, SY21 7RR tel - (01938) 553670, fax - (01938) 552179, email - chrismartin@cpat.org.uk, website - www.cpat.org.uk.

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